• How Does PTSD Prolonged Exposure Therapy Work?

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    How Does PTSD Prolonged Exposure Therapy Work?

    An Interview with Associate Therapist Ladia Adams

    Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder have a way of taking over your existence, ruling your every thought and action. PTSD can be a debilitating and extremely difficult condition to heal and recover from, which is why June has been coined National PTSD Awareness Month. As the therapy world learns more about trauma and its impact on our brains and bodies, a variety of effective treatments have come to light. 

    One of those treatments is Prolonged Exposure Therapy. CW Psychological Services Associate Therapist Ladia Adams has been learning how to practice this treatment and reduce PTSD symptoms for a variety of clients in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the surrounding area. We asked Adams to share her experience in this interview:

    What is Prolonged Exposure Therapy?

    Prolonged exposure teaches individuals to gradually approach their trauma-related memories, feelings, and situations, as specifically said by the American Psychological Association. The idea is for the client to learn, throughout the sessions, that trauma-related memories and cues are not dangerous and do not need to be avoided. 

    It is an intensive therapy program where clients go through 8-15 sessions, most effective if meeting every week for 60-90 minutes. It has an imaginal/processing component (talking about it) and an in vivo exposure component (visiting or engaging with places, items, and situations that make them uncomfortable). 

    How does it work?

    We help the client to revisit their traumatic experience and talk about it until it becomes less distressing. You throw yourself into things you often avoid due to trauma, such as people, places, and objects that bring up a level of distress. This might mean looking at photos of an abuser, going to a place where trauma occurred, engaging in group settings, or looking at an object that triggers a traumatic memory. This process lets your brain know that you can do it. You don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to avoid these things anymore. 

    The imaginal part of the therapy involves retelling the story of your trauma in your own words, in the present tense, repeating four to five times. Then the client listens to the therapy session on their own, free of distractions, and allows themself to feel all the emotions without turning to coping skills.

    After listening to each session again on their own, clients are encouraged to use coping skills such as breathing training where they breathe in for four seconds and out for four seconds. This coping technique allows clients to be in the present moment after having a lot of those distressing feelings, where they may cry, yell, and re-live some of those intense moments. Breathing helps to release that nervousness and tension. It is very effective.

    PTSD treatment

    Who is it for?

    This therapy is intended to help people heal from complex trauma, created specifically for people who have experienced gun violence and other repeated incidences of abuse but helpful for many trauma sufferers. Anyone who is struggling with past trauma that is affecting their everyday life and wants to try something different is encouraged to try prolonged exposure.

    There are a few exceptions. Clients who also struggle with psychotic disorders, unstable bipolar disorder, substance abuse or dependence, suicidal ideation or recent suicide attempts, severe dissociative systems, or self-injuring behavior are not ideal for this type of therapy. 

    If you are interested in learning more about prolonged exposure therapy and finding out if you or someone you love might be a good fit, please contact our office at [email protected] or 610-308-7575.

    Success Stories

    Each client is closely monitored throughout treatment to see how their depression, anxiety, and other trauma symptoms are progressing. Adams has seen a variety of success stories, including a gradual decrease in depression from a self-ranked 45 to an 8 on assessment. She has helped clients who have tried many other treatments with little success to find drastic healing through prolonged exposure. One client in particular told Adams, “I now feel like my trauma is just part of my story. It no longer defines who I am.” 

    Other PTSD Therapies

    PTSD treatment

    Counselors and associates at CW Psychological Services offer a variety of other PTSD and trauma therapies. In addition to prolonged exposure therapy, clients can receive:

    Cognitive Processing Therapy— Focusing on how the client perceives a traumatic event and processes it. In session, therapists work with clients to identify and process thoughts that are preventing trauma recovery. 

    EMDR — Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy uses bilateral sensory input such as side-to-side eye moments to stimulate the brain to process difficult thoughts, memories, and emotions. 

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy —CBT is a form of talk therapy focusing on how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are related. The goal of this therapy is to give the client more control over thoughts and behaviors. 

    At CW Psychological Services we want to help all of our clients succeed by offering a wide variety of treatment options. We are always encouraging and helping our clinicians to identify training programs to help them grow as providers. Ladia received her training through the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania. The more knowledgeable our providers are on treatment options, the better able they are to facilitate a healing program that fits the individual. If you are a clinician who wishes to learn more about our office and training support, we encourage you to contact us at [email protected] or (610) 308-7575.

    Getting Help

    If you or someone you love is struggling with PTSD please don’t wait to get help. Through therapy, you can regain control of your life and no longer let your past trauma define you. We want to see you thrive.

    Ready to begin counseling in Pennsylvania? 

    Counselors and associate-level clinicians at CW Psychological Services are professionally trained. We have openings for online, or telehealth, therapy appointments. Email us at [email protected] or call (610) 308-7575. We are here for you.